The Most Inspiring Sports Stars – Who are the most influential athletes in the UK?

Athletes have inspired millions since the start of sports history, capturing our attention with their athletic abilities in their chosen sport.

Here at Blacks, we wanted to find the British athletes that are inspiring the nation, therefore we looked at the number of major medal wins, Google searches and social media followers of some of Britain’s top athletes and para-athletes.

The most inspiring British sports stars

1. Lewis Hamilton - Inspiring Score: 9.97

Lewis Hamilton is Britain’s most inspiring athlete according to our ranking. An inspiration to millions, Hamilton has found success despite the racism and economic barriers that he has faced in his career.

Although today there is more diversity in racing, when Hamilton was younger he was the only black member of his youth racing club. The racing driver now holds the record for the most race wins in Formula One history.

With 140 major wins, Hamilton’s success is undeniable and his popularity is equally high, with 45,180,000 Google searches in the last 12 months and 34,200,000 social media followers.

2. Lando Norris - Inspiring Score: 9.7

The second racing driver in our top three, Lando Norris is one of Britain’s most inspirational athletes.

Norris is one of the youngest professional racing drivers in Britain, becoming the youngest karting world champion in 2014 and signing as a junior driver with McLaren at age 17.

The 22-year-old driver has 46 major wins throughout his racing career. Norris received 12,734,000 Google searches from all over the world in the last 12 months, and he has 6,924,200 social media followers.

3. David Beckham - Inspiring Score: 9.12

One of Britain’s most successful footballers, David Beckham is one of the most inspirational athletes from the UK.

Before his professional career, Beckham was a passionate Manchester United fan, whose parents often travelled from London to Old Trafford to watch home matches. Inspiring many, Beckham is the first English player to win league titles in four countries - England, the US, France and Spain. 

Beckham has 19 major cup wins and received 20,310,000 Google searches in the last 12 months. Beckham has 72,800,000 social media followers - that’s more than any other athlete we looked at.

The most inspiring sport

Racing - Average inspiring score: 9.72/10

We calculated the average ‘inspiring score’ for all of the athletes we looked at in each sport. The sport with the highest average score is racing, where the athletes on our list average at 9.72 out of 10.

Compared to the athletes in the other sports we looked at, racing drivers have the most average major wins and Google searches. British auto racers come in second place in our ranking for the most average social media followers, beaten only by British footballers.

Most of the racing drivers on our list started their careers in karting at a young age, although some had unlikely paths into the sport. While Lewis Hamilton faced economic struggles, Jenson Button left school with one GCSE, and even failed his first ever driving test. Today both Button and Hamilton among many others are an inspiration to fans worldwide, with Hamilton campaigning for more racial diversity in the sport and supporting young black and mixed race British drivers through The Hamilton Commission.

Para auto racer Bobby Trundley is among the most inspiring British racing drivers. Diagnosed with autism at age 4, Trundley began go kart racing at just 10 years old and found the sport helped him manage his condition. Bobby joined the paralympic team in 2019, and won four out of five races in his first year of car racing.

When looking at the most inspirational British athletes, we used social media following to help our ranking. Although most of the athletes we looked at have Twitter accounts and almost all have an Instagram account, less than half have a public Tiktok. With reportedly one billion monthly users on the platform, TikTok has made its way onto most people’s phones and the short video clip format helps foster creativity and reach a wide audience.[1]

TikTok’s average demographics indicate its user base is largely composed of young people, which could help athletes on the app connect with younger generations.

Although most athletes we looked at have a Twitter account, we found that many were inactive or haven’t been used in months or even years. As we see the rise in popularity of social media platforms like TikTok the growth of Twitter has seemingly halted, with many users deleting their accounts or gradually reducing their activity. While TikTok primarily engages a younger audience, 25-34 year olds are the most popular age group on Twitter globally, and those aged 35-49 are the next most popular demographic.[2]

In second and third place, football and cycling are among the most inspiring sports respectively. Until recently, both sports have been mostly male-dominated and while there are still barriers to entry for women in these fields, competitors like Laura Kenny and Rebecca Sellar help to inspire girls interested in traditionally male-dominated sports.

Paralympic gold medalist and cyclist Sarah Storey is one of Britain’s most successful Paralympians of all time, and campaigns for more gender inclusivity in the sport, urging women to compete in cycling.

While there are still barriers to participation, including economic hurdles in many sports like racing, many people are able to learn to cycle as a hobby, to exercise or lose weight, with the sport requiring little equipment and specialist clothing.  It comes as no surprise that some of the athletes inspiring us the most, compete in a sport that many of us have tried.

The most inspiring British athletics star

Mo Farah - Inspiring Score: 9/10

One of the best track athletes in the world, Mo Farah is one of Britain’s most inspiring athletics stars.

The Somali-born Olympic gold medalist moved to England at age 8, with limited knowledge of English, and overcame barriers to become one of the world’s most successful athletes.

More recently, Mo has taken to marathon running, including running in Vitality London 10,000. He continues to inspire his followers and follow his passion despite a fractured foot.

With 40 major medal wins and 1,447,500 Google searches in the last 12 months, Mo Farah ranks fifth overall on our list of British sports stars.

The most inspiring British boxing star

Anthony Joshua - Inspiring Score: 7.76/10

Anthony Joshua is Britain’s most inspirational boxer and ranks in 17th place on our list of British athletes.

Starting his boxing career alongside his cousin at age 18, which is usually considered late in boxing, Joshua became a world silver medalist by age 22 and competed in the London Olympic Games the following year.

The boxing star has five major wins and received 11,752,000 Google searches in the last 12 months.

The most inspiring British canoeing star

Mallory Franklin - Inspiring Score: 5.85/10

Mallory Franklin ranks as Britain’s most inspirational canoeing athlete according to all of the factors we looked at.

With women’s canoe only becoming an Olympic sport as recently as in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, Franklin has faced barriers of gender inequality in the sport. First canoeing at the age of just 5 years old, Franklin acknowledges the difficulties faced by women in the sport.

Mallory Franklin competed on the British canoeing team in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games and has 44 major wins. Franklin has 5,911 social media followers and received 84,680 Google searches in the last year.

The most inspiring British climbing star

Shauna Coxsey - Inspiring Score: 7.3/10

Shauna Coxsey is one of the most successful British climbers, so it’s no surprise she ranks as the most inspirational climber on our list.

The 29-year-old climber first wanted to join the sport when she was just four years old, after being inspired by a movie featuring French climber Catherine Destivelle, persisting until she was tall enough for climbing walls. Today she is one of only four women to have climbed an 8B+ boulder route - the third highest rating in bouldering.

Coxsey has 20 major wins. Following the Toyko Olympics, she has 227,700 annual Google searches and 465,800 social media followers.

The most inspiring British cycling star

Laura Kenny - Inspiring Score: 8.76/10

British track and road cyclist Laura Kenny has six Olympic medals from three different Olympic Games and is one of the nation’s most successful cyclists of all time.

Despite being born with a collapsed lung and later being diagnosed with asthma, Kenny has remained determined to succeed in sports. First competing in trampolining until respiratory issues caused her to stop, Kenny later began cycling with her family on weekends before competing for junior titles.

Kenny also has 492,700 followers on social media and received 900,700 worldwide Google searches in the last 12 months.

The most inspiring British equestrian star

Charlotte Dujardin - Inspiring Score: 8.18/10

Dressage and equestrian athlete Charlotte Dujardin is a multiple World and Olympic champion.

Dujardin grew up around horse riding thanks to her older sister, and began riding at the age of just two years old. Despite economic barriers, Dujardin’s mother bought and sold ponies to finance the riding hobbies of her daughters.

Dujardin has 22 major medals, including three Olympic gold medals, and she has 528,100 followers across all the social media platforms we looked at.

The most inspiring British football star

David Beckham - Inspiring Score: 9.12/10

Of all the British footballers we looked at, David Beckham ranks as the most inspiring. Beckham has an extensive team history, having played for Manchester United, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain.

Outside of his football career, David Beckham has become a global fashion icon having collaborated with H&M, Breitling, Adidas, Armani and Gillette, and founding his own fragrance line.

Beckham has 19 major wins and last year he received 20,310,000 Google searches from all over the world.

The most inspiring British racing star

Lewis Hamilton - Inspiring Score: 9.97/10

Formula One racing driver Lewis Hamilton is Britain’s most inspiring racing star, closely followed by Lando Norris.

Raised on a council estate with his father working multiple jobs to finance Hamilton’s racing hobby, Hamilton has publicly spoken out about the barriers he faced within Formula One driving.

Despite these challenges, Hamilton has 140 major wins and received 45,180,000 Google searches in the last year. Across Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, Hamilton has 34,200,000 followers.

The most inspiring British sailing star

Ben Ainslie - Inspiring Score: 6.85/10

Ben Ainslie is one of just three sailors in the world to have won medals in five consecutive Olympic Games - four of which are gold medals.

The British sailor has 21 major medal wins and 119,900 Google searches in the last 12 months. Ainslie also has 123,800 followers on the social media platforms we looked at.

The most inspiring British skateboarding star

Sky Brown - Inspiring Score: 6.88/10

Sky Brown is the most inspiring British skateboarder we looked at, according to medal wins, Google searches and social media followers.

The British-Japanese skateboarding champion began learning tricks from Youtube and is now the youngest Nike sponsored athlete in the world. First competing at age 8 in the Vans US Open, Brown became a professional athlete in 2018 at age 10.

The youngest professional skateboarder in the world, Brown has 3,210,700 social media followers, receives 3,491,000 Google searches a year and holds three major medals.

The most inspiring British winter sports star

James Woods - Inspiring Score: 7.18/10

Freestyle skier James Woods is the most inspiring winter sports athlete we looked at.

The Sheffield skier holds 11 major titles and has 81,500 followers on all of the social media sites we looked at.

Woods started skiing at Sheffield Ski village, and chose the sport as the yearly membership was £50 cheaper than for snowboarding. Woods later moved to Austria at age 15 to follow his dream of being a professional skier.

The most inspiring British surfing star

Alan Stokes - Inspiring Score: 4.97

Surfer and model Alan Stokes is the most inspirational surfer on our list. Stokes had his first surfing lesson at age 6 after his family moved from Aldershot to Newquay.

Stokes has four major titles and 344,400 annual worldwide Google searches. Across all social media platforms we looked at, Stokes has 36,008 followers.

The most inspiring British swimming star

Adam Peaty - Inspiring Score: 9.03/10

Adam Peaty is the most inspiring British swimmer on our list. With 44 major medal wins and 2,957,200 annual Google searches, Peaty’s success and popularity are undeniable.

Peaty used to be scared of water when taking baths as a baby, but overcame his fear at age 4 after his first swimming lesson. When he was 9, Peaty joined his local swimming club.

Peaty also ranks fourth overall among all the British athletes we looked at.

Methodology

We wanted to find the most inspiring British sports stars, therefore we looked at 111 of the top athletes and para-athletes from the UK in a range of 13 different sports.

For each of the factors below, we gave each athlete a normalised score out of 10, and we averaged these scores to give each athlete an ‘inspiring score out of 10’.

Using Wikipedia, we sourced the total number of major medal or cup wins, using each athlete’s ‘medal record’ on March 15 2022.

Using Google Keyword Planner, we sourced the total number of worldwide Google searches for each athlete between March 1 2021 - February 28 2022.

Using Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, we sourced the total number of followers of each athlete and totalled these on March 15 2022.

To find the average number of major medal or cup wins, Google searches and social media followers by sport, we took a mean average of each value within each sport. We then gave each sport a  normalised score out of 10 for each factor, and averaged these scores to give each sport an ‘average inspiring score out of 10’.

[1] All figures are sourced from TikTok, accurate as of September 2021.

[2] All information is sourced from Social Shepherd, accurate as of May 2022.
 

Adam is a lover of the outdoors who’s recently moved back to rural Lancashire after living in the urban confines of Leeds for the past few years. His favourite pastimes include cooking, playing countless sports to a barely acceptable standard and exploring the local countryside with his dog, Chip.

When the weather gets in the way, Adam can be found at home watching films & TV and listening to music. If he’s not there, he’ll be in the pub down the road.